Review: Toots and the Maytals, the Wailers

(Above: Toots and the Maytals deliver “54-46 Was My Number” to a massive French audience in 2009.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

For four hours Sunday night, the back lot behind Grinder’s felt like a Jamaican resort.

The balmy summer weather was the perfect accompaniment to the music. Toots and the Maytals, the group that invented the word “reggae,” and the Wailers, the band that took it mainstream, celebrated both the roots and the future of the genre for a partially packed but fully appreciative audience.

While both groups feature only one founding member, it was more than enough for each ensemble. Led by bass player Aston “Family Man” Barrett, the Wailers blasted through an energetic hour of Bob Marley’s greatest hits.

The 10-piece band stuck closely to the original arrangements handed down from Mount Marley, but no one seemed to be looking for anything new. The Wailers played the hits for a crowd who had worn out their copies of “Legend” and needed no prompting to sing and dance along.

With a deck stacked so deeply, it was hard to go wrong, but a few songs stood out. “Jamming” took its title literally enough to feature some nice guitar work. “Wait In Vain” featured some nice harmony vocals from lead singer Elan Atias and the two female backing vocalists. The trio tossed the audience a curveball in the middle of that number when they worked “We Are the World” and a shout-out to Michael Jackson in the chorus.

The Wailers’ set ended with an epic medley of “Exodus” and “Punky Reggae Party.” Anchored by the wah guitar strumming and keyboard riff and garnished by horns, the 10-minute performance suggested a slithering, dancing convoy.

When “Exodus” was over, so was the set. It seemed a shame to shut down a band that felt like it was just getting start. The puzzlement was compounded by 45-minute wait before Toots and the Maytals came on.

Toots Hibbert made up for the wait between sets by opening with the song most people wanted to hear -– “Pressure Drop” -– and blasting through his best-known numbers. The music Hibbert made with the Maytals isn’t as famous as Marley’s, but it’s just as influential, mixing gospel, soul, funk and folk.

The earliest highlight wasn’t an original number, though. Hibbert and the seven-piece Maytals transformed “Louie Louie” to something that sounded like a Jamaican version of Booker T and the MGs that ended in double-time with Hibbert screaming like Ronald Isley at the end of “Shout” and verbally jousting with his two female backing singers. The trick worked so well it was reprised several times throughout the set.

A slowed-down reading of “Bam Bam” found Hibbert on acoustic guitar with an arrangement that betrayed the song’s sea shanty roots. Hibbert stayed on acoustic for a ferocious “Funky Kingston,” which more than lived up to its title. He blew a blues harp on “My Love Is So Strong” and dared the crowd to keep up with his fast dance moves several times.

The indefatigable Hibbert still has great pipes and he showed them off frequently. An improvised tribute to Kinston went from soul ballad to blues shuffle to reggae groove before getting a big gospel finish. The Maytals’ church collided with a great cover of “Take Me Home, Country Roads” that reclaimed the number from Dwight Schrute and Andy Bernard’s break room shenanigans.

The Maytals’ 95-minute set ended with romps through “Broadway Jungle” and “54-46 Was My Number” that culminated in another gospel blow-out and the band riffing on “Beat It.”

Public Property opened the evening with a 30-minute set played against the setting sun and an arriving audience. The six-piece band was definitely a disciple of the acts who followed. Their infectious set including the catchy “Choo-Choo Song.”

Setlists

The Wailers: Intro/horn instrumental, Lively Up Yourself, Rastaman Vibration, I Shot the Sheriff, Jamming, Wait In Vain ->We Are the World, Three Little Birds, One Love, Exodus/Punky Reggae Party

Toots and the Maytals: Pressure Drop, Pomp and Pride, Louie Louie, Reggae Got Soul, Time Tough, Bam Bam, Funky Kingston, unknown song, My Love is So Strong, Sweet and Dandy, Reggae Music All Right (improv), Take Me Home Country Roads, You Know, Light Your Light, Monkey Man/encore/Broadway Jungle, 54-46 Was My Number

Keep reading:

Review: Toots and the Maytals (2007)

Review: Sly and Robbie (2009)

Review: Sly and Robbie

(Above: Sly and Robbie drop heavy riddim at Red Rocks in 2008.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

If Robbie Shakespeare’s job as a musician fizzles, he could probably make a living bringing down buildings. Alongside rhythm partner Sly Dunbar, Shakespeare’s bass rattled the foundations of the Folly Theater for nearly two hours Saturday night.

Backed by the four-piece Taxi Gang, Sly and Robbie delivered their signature reggae sound, which has appeared on literally tens of thousands of records, encompassing everyone from Bob Dylan to Peter Tosh.

The night started with an instrumental that exceeded 20 minutes in which the musicians passed solos like a jazz combo. As the trombone and saxophone bridged the gap between Afro-beat and ska, the keyboards and guitar subliminally sparkled underneath. When the guitarist popped to the forefront he delivered solos that recalled Carlos Santana, displayed Eddie Van Halen’s two-finger tapping and went Jacques Cousteau on his wah peddle for a solo that sounded like it was played underwater.

Though they politely shared the spotlight, Sly and Robbie were never far from the forefront. Robbie’s bass was so loud it drowned out most of the vocals and probably registered on the Richter scale. Sly’s drums sat neatly on top, crisp, precise and articulate. Their playing wasn’t flashy, but their grooves spoke volumes.

The Folly was half-full at best, but the band worked the room like it was packed. Putting down his horn, the trombone player paced the stage leading the crowd in call and response. He delivered a great cover of LeRoy Smart’s “Ballistic Affair,” which featured Sly and Robbie on the original 1976 recording, and drew the biggest applause of the night with a reading of Bob Marley’s “Rastaman Chant.” The sextet slowed that number ever so slightly, accentuating the song’s gospel elements.

Though their playing was engaging, the music did get a little samey after about an hour. The echo-laden drums and behind-the-beat accompaniment typical of deep dub only hold so much room for exploration. Fortunately, a surprise appearance from singer Peter Gayle rescued the set.

Acting as if there were a secret ordinance against standing still, Gayle was constantly kicking his feet along with the beat, twirling his long dreadlocks or suggestively swinging his hips. His G-rated cover of Webbie’s “I Miss You” excited the crowd and the energy stayed high after he was gone.

The concert was part of the “Cypress Avenue Live at the Folly” series, and came just one night after the ensemble’s performance at the Wakarusa Music Festival in its new home at Ozark, Ark.

The band opened their encore set with a cover of Tex Ritter’s Oscar winning ““High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me).” Robbie said this was their first time performing the number and the arrangement was little more than his vocals and Sly pounding out the Bo Diddley beat on his bass drum. They closed with “Welcome to Jamrock,” which after several minutes somehow morphed into a gentle jazz saxophone solo. After saying good night, half the ensemble left the stage. Seemingly oblivious, the saxophone and keyboard players and guitarist played on, lost in the rhythm.

George Kalinsky: Painting with Light

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(Above: Elton John and John Lennon at Madison Square Garden, 1974.
All photos by George Kalinsky, courtesy of www.georgekalinsky.com.)

By Joel Francis

In his 34 years as Madison Square Garden’s official photographer, George Kalinsky has forgotten more games, concerts and events than many people could see in several lifetimes.

Kalinsky, who estimates he has shot more than 8,000 events, can be forgiven for having no memory of Bob Marley’s next-to-last performances in 1978, because what he remembers more than makes up for any lapses.

“November 28, 1974. Don’t ask me how I remember that, but I do,” Kalinsky said with a laugh. “Elton John was playing the Garden, and he surprised everyone by having John Lennon join him onstage. Those three songs they did together turned out to be the last time John Lennon performed before he was shot. The moment I captured won’t be there again.”

Several of Kalinsky’s favorite moments are on display for a current exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. “Live From Madison Square Garden: From the Lens of George Kalinsky” opened May 1 in the Ahmet M. Ertegun Main Exhibit Hall and will run through January 2010.

“I’ve always tried to paint with light,” Kolinsky said. “Shooting against a plain black background is not the most creative, but it’s what you usually see. These performers spend millions on lighting and effects. I always try to capture that as part of the atmosphere of the performance.”

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The atmosphere for the Rolling Stones’ Garden concert in 1969 was a frenzy. The show was one of the first arena rock concerts and the pandemonium was captured and released on the Stones’ great live album “Get Your Ya Ya’s Out.”

“That was the first time I saw a buzz, a reaction like that in the audience. Everyone wanted to be onstage and the crowd started gradually pushing forward,” Kalinsky said. “I went under the stage and went on in the back and got some amazing shots.”

Getting the audience’s reaction to the band was the key to recording the moment, Kalinsky said.

“I think a huge part of the story is the people and how they react,” he said. “There may not be too many pictures in this exhibit of the crowd, but I always try to include them. Every audience is different, just as a circus is different from a track meet and hockey is from basketball. The audience is a reflection of the performance.”

The crowd at a 1974 Bob Dylan performance played a key role in a shot Kalinsky called one of the top two or three photos he’s taken.

“Dylan is Dylan, the hair, the body language, all of it connecting and seeing the audience reach out to him is beautiful and telling,” Kalinsky said. “With him, the words are so important; when I look at Dylan I try to capture the aura of the man.

“I want to get a little closer to see what his face looks like,” Kalinsky continued, “and how it shows the years, not in terms of getting older, but the years of performing with the audience and how that bond grows stronger and stronger.”

fullscreen-capture-562009-35709-pmbmpDylan played a key role in George Harrison’s 1971 Concert for Bangladesh at the Garden. Shooting both of those shows not only taught Kalinsky that music was the true universal language, but showed him how far the Garden’s stage extended.

“I was in a cab recently and the driver was from Bangladesh,” Kalinsky said. “He couldn’t have been more than 35 or 40 years old, but he said in the hearts of his family and friends in Bangladesh they would never forget Madison Square Garden. They weren’t there (at the Concert for Bangladesh), but they’d never forget because that’s where people learned to help his country and family.”

Events at the Garden, Kalinsky said, “become part of our culture and part of our world. It wasn’t long ago we had 9/11 and that concert. Even if you weren’t there, you were there because everybody in the world tuned in to the Concert for New York City.”

What stands out in Kalinsky’s mind from that show isn’t the defining performances from Paul McCartney, the Who and artists with ties to the Big Apple like Jay-Z and Bon Jovi, but a moment backstage with Billy Crystal before he was about to go on.

“I asked him how does he project his talent when the audience is in tears and police and firefighters are holding up pictures (of their missing loved ones)?” Kolinsky said. “He said the hardest thing to do was be funny in the face of an audience who had lost so much.”

Although Kalinsky’s relationships and reputation allowed him backstage that day, he acknowledged access has been almost completely shut down from the early days when he would take pictures of Elvis Presley in the dressing room before his first Garden concert or Sly Stone’s groomsmen getting ready before Stone’s onstage wedding in 1974.

And just as backstage has become more restrictive, the window for taking performance photos has been confined to the first three songs. That doesn’t bother Kalinsky, though, because digital technology and automatic lighting systems within the camera let him do as much with those three songs as he could in an entire show in the days of film.

“However, in terms of taking pictures it always comes down to the eye and the moment,” Kalinsky said. “You have to recognize the moment and snap the picture. This is the most important aspect, whether you are shooting a concert, sporting event or portrait setting. It’s what I’m always looking for.”

Kalinsky’s duties have also given him a window on the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals, Knicks games, scores of the world’s top athletes and personalities. This diverse shooting background has provided enough photos to fill eight books and exhibits from the Museum of Modern Art to the baseball and basketball halls of fame.

“The Garden stage, whether it’s Muhammad Ali, the Pope or LeBron James, brings out the best in every performer,” Kalinsky said. “Every day I walk into the Garden I say what a privilege it is to be part of this arena and the best stage in the whole world.”

(Below: A recent portrait of the Red-Headed Stranger.)

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